Iltutmish Biography

(3rd Sultan of Delhi from 1211 to 1236)

Born In: Central Asia

Shams ud-Din Iltutmish was the first Muslim sovereign to rule from Delhi. It's under his rule that the Delhi Sultanate gained a firm footing in the subcontinent. His military career began in the Ghurid empire, in the service of Mu'izz ad-Din Muhammad Ghori. Iltutmish steadily rose to prominence. When he ascended to the throne in Delhi, he strategically overpowered his rivals and successfully protected the territories of his kingdom in all directions. Not only did the Delhi Sultanate expand geographically under Iltutmish's rule but he also established processes that ensured the smooth administration of his kingdom. Despite being religious, Iltutmish didn't let his beliefs get in the way of diplomatic decisions. This balance between religion and politics became the hallmark of Turkic rule in India. By the time of his death, the Delhi Sultanate was the largest and most powerful kingdom in North India.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Shams-ud-din Iltutmish


Spouse/Ex-: Shah Turkan

father: Ilam Khan

children: Muiz ud din Bahram, Nasiruddin Mahmud, Razia Sultana, Ruknuddin Firuz

Born Country: Persia

Emperors & Kings

Died on: April 11, 1236

place of death: Mehrauli, Delhi

Childhood & Early Life
Iltutmish was born to a wealthy family in Central Asia. His father, Ilam Khan, was the leader of a Turkic tribe. A Persian historian's writings claim that Iltutmish's jealous brothers sold him to a slave dealer. However, other experts suggest that the historian's narrative could be inspired by a story from the Quran.
As a young slave, Iltutmish spent his early life shuffling between cities in the service of many masters. One of the earliest was a local religious officer whose family is known to have treated him well. It is here that Iltutmish is believed to have developed an interest in religion.
Several merchants exchanged hands before Iltutmish arrived in Ghazni, the Ghurid Empire's capital. On hearing of the handsome and intelligent slave, the king promptly offered a thousand gold coins in exchange for Iltutmish and another slave. When the merchant refused, a furious Ghori banned their sale in his capital.
Three years later, sometime in the 1190s, Iltutmish caught the eye of Qutb al-Din Aibak, Ghori's lieutenant, who was returning from a campaign in Gujarat and was unaware of the ban. Following Ghori's permission, Aibak made the deal for Iltutmish in Delhi for 1,00,000 silver-copper coins.
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In Aibak�
Under Aibak, Ghori's slave commander stationed in his empire's north Indian territories, Iltutmish is known to have progressed rapidly, rising in rank and responsibility. Following a conquest in 1200, Iltutmish was made Amir of Gwalior in central India. He was granted the iqta of Baran, a system of tax farming followed by the Ghurid ruler.
His efficient governance soon earned Iltutmish the iqta of Badaun which, according to historians, became one of the most important territories in the Delhi Sultanate. His military decisions against local rebel chiefs, during a Ghurid campaign in the Khokhar region in 1205-06, put him on the ruler's radar.
Soon after making enquiries about Iltutmish, Ghori presented him with a robe of honour and instructed Aibak to treat him well. Around the same time, the Ghurid king also ordered for Iltutmish's manumission, which freed him of his slavery even before his master Aibak, who was also a slave.
Throne of the Delhi Sultanate
After the Ghurid ruler's death in 1206, the territories of his vast empire fell into the hands of his various generals. Aibak became the independent ruler of Ghurid territories in India. He set up his capital in Lahore from where he laid the foundation of the Delhi Sultanate, independent of the former Ghurid empire.
A mere four years later, Aibak died unexpectedly. To avoid political instability in the newly formed kingdom, the nobles hurriedly appointed Aram Shah as his successor. Nobles from other parts of the sultanate who did not support Aram Shah were in favour of Iltutmish at the helm.
On the nobles' invitation to occupy the throne, Iltutmish marched to the capital, seized power, defeated Aram Shah's forces and dethroned him in 1211. Nobles against the coup were promptly overpowered and many beheaded. Iltutmish soon shifted the sultanate's capital to Delhi.
Iltutmish spent a majority of his reign annexing to the Delhi Sultanate territories of the former Ghurid empire in north India that were being claimed by rivals and former Ghurid generals. He also led campaigns against local dynasties and rulers in central India, adding more territories to his empire.
Winning in the West
From the very beginning of Iltutmish's reign, territories in the Indus Valley and Punjab region remained hotly contested between several rivals over close to two decades. Ruling from nearby Delhi, Iltutmish used his famed skills of strategy, diplomacy and military, to finally conquer the region in 1227.
The Khwarazmian invasion prompted Taj al-Din Yildiz, the successor to Ghori, to move eastwards and lay claim on the former Ghurid empire's territories in India. When attempts at diplomatic dialogue between the two rulers failed, a battle in 1216 resulted in Iltutmish's victory. Varying accounts claim that Yildiz was captured and executed.
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The triumph over Yildiz helped Iltutmish establish himself as a ruler independent of the former Ghurid empire, and reinforced the Delhi Sultanate's sovereign status. Iltutmish is also known for his tactful diplomacy with Mongol ruler Genghis Khan, during the conflict in the Indus Valley region and in securing his territories from invasion.
East & Central India
While the western end of his empire kept Iltutmish distracted, on the east, the Aibak-appointed governor of Sultanate's territories in eastern India and his successor, Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Shah, declared the territory independent of the Sultanate. When Ghiyasuddin inched towards Bihar, Iltutmish's forces captured the region in 1210. The confrontation resulted in Ghiyasuddin agreeing to a diplomatic deal that acknowledged the Sultanate's authority.
In 1226-27, when Ghiyasuddin tried to rebel once again, Iltutmish directed his eldest son Nasiruddin Mahmud to Bengal, where he captured and executed Ghiyasuddin. Nasir took charge of the territory until his unexpected death in 1229. Malik Balkha Khalji tried to exploit the sudden power vacuum, however, he was defeated and killed by Iltutmish in 1230, ending Khalji rule in the region.
To remind rebelling Hindu chiefs in central India of his authority, Iltutmish captured the Ranthambore Fort in 1226 and Mandore Fort in 1227. In 1232, he seized Gwalior after an 11-month-long conflict. Over the next few years, his forces raided, plundered and destroyed several areas in the region, gaining immense wealth along the way
In 1229, Iltutmish received a deed of investiture from the Abbasid Caliph. Although the Caliph's status in the Islamic world had been declining, and Iltutmish considered the honour a mere formality, he celebrated the event with much fanfare. The Caliph's endorsement served as a religious and political approval that further reinforced his status as an independent ruler.
Improvising on Ghori's idea of administrative grants, Iltutmish based his kingdom on the iqta system which ensured the efficient administration of his territories. He assigned regions, on a rotation basis, to officials, nobles and local princes who held varying responsibilities and received revenues from their region in exchange for their services and loyalty.
Instead of adopting the local coinage system like his predecessors, Iltutmish introduced two new coins, the tanka and jital, of which the tanka became the forerunner to the Indian Rupee. The new bi-metallic coins helped navigate the silver supply shortage of the time and were used for much of the Sultanate period and even after.
Iltutmish was a great patron of knowledge and attracted several scholars, Sufi saints and other experts to his kingdom. Under his rule, Delhi emerged not only the centre for Islamic power in India but also flourished culturally. He commissioned both religious buildings and civic amenities, making many significant contributions to Delhi's architecture.
He completed the building of Qutb Minar, started by Aibak in 1199. Many of Iltutmish's works were dedicated to Sufi saints, one such was the Gandhak ki Baoli. Sultan Ghari, the funerary monument he built for Nasir in 1231, is the earliest Islamic tomb to survive. He also built the Jama Masjid in Badaun, one of the oldest and largest mosques in India today.
Family & Personal Life
Iltutmish married Aibak's daughter Turkan Khatun. Their four children were Nasiruddin Mahmud, Razia Sultana, Muiz ud din Bahram and Rukn ud din Firuz.
Iltutmish was a dedicated Muslim, prayed regularly and organised religious discourses in his court. However, he ensured a distinction between his religious beliefs and political decisions. He understood the practical limitations of enforcing Islamic law in a largely non-Muslim India, much to the disappointment of his council of advisors.
In April 1236, Iltutmish fell ill during one of his military campaigns. He died within a few days of his return to Delhi and was buried in the Qutb Complex. After his death, the Delhi Sultanate faced a period of political instability during which four of Iltutmish's descendants briefly took to the throne and were subsequently killed.

See the events in life of Iltutmish in Chronological Order

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